Palliative Surgery in Treating Painful Metastases of the Upper Cervical Spine: Case Report and Review of the Literature

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Increased incidence of upper cervical metastases and higher life expectancy resulted in higher operative rates in patients. The purpose of this study was to explore the methods and the clinical outcomes of palliative surgery for cervical spinal metastases.

A systematic review of a 15-case series of upper cervical metastases treated with palliative surgery was performed. All cases underwent palliative surgery, including anterior tumor resection and internal fixation in 3 cases, posterior tumor resection and internal fixation in 10 cases, and combined anterior and posterior tumor resection and internal fixation in 2 cases. Patients were followed-up clinically and radiologically after the operation, and visual analog scale (VAS) and activities of daily living scores were calculated. In addition, a literature review was performed and patients with upper cervical spine metastases were analyzed.

The mean follow-up period was 12.5 months (range, 3–26 months) in this consecutive case series. The pain was substantially relieved in 93.3% (14/15) of the patients after the operation. The VAS and Japanese Orthopedic Association scores showed improved clinical outcomes, from 7.86 ± 1.72 and 11.13 ± 2.19 preoperatively to 2.13 ± 1.40 and 14.26 ± 3.03 postoperatively, respectively. The mean survival time was 9.5 months (range, 5–26 months). Dural tear occurred in 1 patient. Wound infections, instrumentation failure, and postoperative death were not observed. Among our cases and other cases reported in the literature, 72% of the patients were treated with simple anterior or posterior operation, and only 12% of the patients (3/25) underwent complex combined anterior and posterior operation.

Metastatic upper cervical spine disease is not a rare occurrence. Balancing the perspective of patients on palliative surgery concerning the clinical benefits of operation versus its operative risks can assist the decision for surgery.

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